Project Management

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3 Tips for when your to do list is full of important things

Managing data maturity risks

What does commercial viability mean?

Building resilience into project delivery

Lessons about project metrics

3 Tips for when your to do list is full of important things

Have you got too much on your To Do list? What about the backlog – is everything in the ‘must do’ category? What about your project prioritisation process? How many projects are top priority, even when you’ve applied what should be reasonable and weighted criteria designed do rank projects based on importance?

Yes, I’ve been there. Everything is important and stakeholders want it all tomorrow.

We all know that isn’t possible, and in most cases, isn’t even desirable. Some of those ‘tomorrow’ dates will be totally arbitrary, and based on the shadow of a promise instead of fact-based, schedule-driven expectations.

But when a senior person asks you to do something, or your trying to guide the team through a prioritisation exercise, how can you manage all the things to do? Here are 3 tips for reframing your workload and helping stakeholders see what’s possible based on capacity and priority.

1. Go back to the ‘why’

What’s the benefit of doing the task, project or of delivering that feature? What’s the rationale behind it and the user impact? Think about how you can measure the success of the deliverable and what return it will provide. That doesn’t have to be a financial return, it could be a social impact return, customer satisfaction improvements or something else.

Understanding the reason for doing the task and what comes out the end of it will give you greater insight into priority. The project that has the largest return is normally worth doing over the project that has a small return. The automation task that you’ve been putting off setting up is going to free up resource time longer term, and that’s worth more to you than something tactical.

2. Yes, but…

When stakeholders are pushing for their tasks to be at the top of the list, ask for their help in prioritising. Say you can do the work, but at the expense of something else. What stops, or gets delivered later?

“Yes, I can take that on, but it means postponing delivering XYZ that you also asked for, until next week. Are you OK with that?”

“Yes, we can do that, but we’ve got a lot of other changes to work on first, so we won’t get to it until next month.”

The onus is on them to support the prioritisation effort, and it helps make them aware of the impact of juggling priorities – especially when their request impacts another stakeholder’s expectations.

3. Draw the line

One of the techniques we used in my old job was to maintain a list of changes and projects in priority order. We had a prioritisation model that everything was fed into, and the output was a ranked list of work.

Then we applied estimates to the work and reviewed the capacity of the team. That told us how much work we could take on as a department and what was next in line for when there was availability to pick up something else.

It was a spreadsheet, and it literally had a line under the work we could do. Everything under the line didn’t get worked on.

If someone expects their work to take priority, it needs to go through the prioritisation route. Sharing the list (and the line) with stakeholders helps them visualise why you can’t simply do it – even if it’s a small thing.

“Yes, that’s fine, it will take longer than normal to work its way through testing because of the volume of work the team has on at the moment. Oh, you need it sooner? Let me share the higher priority items with you if this takes precedence, so you can see what other stakeholder commitments we’d need to drop to do this more quickly. Perhaps you could talk to those stakeholders to agree the overall priorities? I’ll put a call in.”

What else do you do to help protect your time and prioritise your work? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: March 14, 2023 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

False Urgency

Have you ever worked on a project where when things went wrong, the sponsor was calm and measured, helping you create a map towards a resolution but backing off as required and letting you get on with the work?

That’s great.

The alternative is a much more destructive environment, where pressure from the levels above create a sense that everything has to be done now, even the tasks that don’t actually have to be done now. When things go wrong, that pressure intensifies. The team are pressed to deliver a fix to the exclusion of everything else, or to hit a milestone that has been made up by a senior leader and would never have been committed to if the full plan was understood at the time.

Where does false urgency come from?

False urgency comes from the pressure that is put on a team, group or individual to make a decision. It’s normally – in my experience – the result of some kind of failure.

Something goes wrong, and suddenly the big boss says he wants it fixed by 5pm. There’s no denying it’s a mistake that needs to be fixed, and fast, but the 5pm deadline is false urgency. Wouldn’t it be better to be fixed by 6pm and be right, rather than slap together an issue response plan and do a not-so-good job by 5pm?

The other situation I’ve found myself in is where a senior leader has committed in public – to a client, customer or during a Town Hall meeting – that something will be done by a certain date. And then we, as the project delivery team, have to find a way to meet that date. This false urgency is created by someone who doesn’t have the full information about what work is required and how much effort is likely to go into the project. But once a date is out there in public, it’s kind of hard for it to be extended without someone losing face.

How does false urgency affect people?

False urgency makes people think the situation is out of control, especially as the first deadline whooshes by. I’ve been on teams where we’ve been asked to do something asap, but it’s become clear that the solution – the correct solution – is going to take a bit longer. Suddenly, the fake deadline is swept out of the way. The fake urgency is gone. It feels like that was just a tool to get us to focus, which of course we did. And would have done anyway. We all know the problem needs resolving and that it’s top priority.

That sense of not being respected or allowed to find the solution, the pressure of having to do something just because someone says so, it all goes towards creating feelings of anxiety and anger. I know I get grumpy if I think something is important and someone then comes along and tells me it should be my most important task. It is already – but as a project manager, there’s often not much I can do beyond facilitating the process of issue resolution.

It's also tiring to be micromanaged and to be under the pressure of scrutiny.

The pressure of being in an urgent situation can make people do strange things. For example, looking busy. Busy is not the same as proactive or productive. When the bosses are circling because a client is being affected by a project issue, it’s important to look like you are gainfully employed, even if you can’t actually help the team to code the solution or run the fix or whatever.

There are lots of meetings, often to go over things that you’ve already gone over with other people. There are lots of reports. You end up defending behaviour and progress and explaining why things are taking as long as they are or involving the resources that they are.

How do we avoid this?

Given that false urgency can have such a negative impact on the team, I think it’s important to consider how it can be avoided. Sometimes – such as when your sponsor blurts out a delivery date in a client meeting and you haven’t even finished the estimating yet – you can’t in the moment. You can, however, mitigate the impact with open and honest communication and a bit of negotiation.

Be data-led, keep the communication channels open, be transparent with your sponsor and customer and avoid promising things before you have finished the planning stages. Have you ever been in a situation like this before? If you’re prepared to share, please tell us in the comments!

Posted on: February 02, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

5 Ways to Add Value as a Project Manager

You hear it all the time: “We want our project managers to add value.” “How are you adding value to the organisation?” “I want to spend more time on valued-added activities.”

But what does adding value actually mean?

I’m not a great fan of buzzwords that I can’t explain and turn into practical actions, so I’ve given this topic quite a lot of thought over the years. Here are 5 things I think you can do to add value (in a meaningful way) as a project manager.

1. Team building

Projects are done by people. People make up teams. Groups of people don’t have the same impact as a well-functioning team. Therefore, spending time on team building is worthwhile and will create value for the organisation because you’ll be better at delivering whatever it is you are delivering.

Focus on creating a positive work environment. Think about what people need to get their tasks done. Look for roadblocks you can remove, processes you can streamline. Talk about the blockers and why they are a problem.

And get some fun in there too.

2. Tenacity

Being committed to the team and the job, and the project, is a sure way to add value because it increases the chance the project will actually get done. How many projects do you know of that started but didn’t have the momentum to get across the line? That’s what tenacity will help you avoid.

Assuming you are working on the right projects, the ability to follow through and get the work done is important for making sure your time pays off for the company.

3. Relationship-building

This is such a large topic, which includes resolving conflict, smoothing over awkwardness, being diplomatic while speaking truth to power, respectful challenge and knowing who to connect and when. There’s a whole bunch of soft skills (or power skills, as it is trendy to call them now) that fall into this bucket.

They are important because this is what helps you get work done even when the environment is tricky. The more you listen, the more you understand and the easier it is to get your projects done. You’ll understand more of the business context that lets you make the right decisions that – you guessed it – lead to delivering a higher-value result.

4. Control the process

Governance might not seem like a particularly value-added thing to do, but when you understand and use the processes of project management, you can structure, standardise, save time, automate, compare and improve so much more easily.

If you have a standard approach, however informal, everyone knows what to do and what to expect and that takes some of the uncertainty out of what is normally a pretty uncertain time for people – projects deliver change and that comes with an overhead of having to live with not knowing exactly what the future will look like. That can be an added source of anxiety and stress for the team and wider stakeholder community.

5. Change management

Projects start to feel out of control when change is not managed appropriately, and that’s when stakeholders start to get nervous. You can help your projects be more successful and ‘land’ better with the receiving organisation, if you manage change properly.

That goes for both the process-led effort of receiving and handling change requests as part of your project management work, and also integrating what you are delivering into the business in a way that makes it possible for the benefits to be received as soon as possible, with the least disruption. Benefits = value.

How do you interpret ‘adding value’ as a project manager? I think it could go much further than what I’ve written here. I’m sure there are many other ways of looking at our role and how we can serve our stakeholder communities in the most value-adding way. Let me know by leaving a comment below!

Posted on: March 22, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

5 Productivity Tips [Infographic]

Categories: productivity

We all have the same number of hours in the day, so how come some people seem to get more done?

Well, there is no magic secret. They probably are just very good at focusing and prioritising their work. They get more done – or at least, they appear to – by doing the right things.

That said, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve discovered over the years that help me speed up my daily work. First: get a super-fast internet connection! Once you’ve got that, you’ll get less frustrated waiting for pages to load. It’s amazing how much we need to use online services and tools in the course of our day jobs, and for everything else that’s a ‘home’ job too.

After that, try the tips in the infographic below and see if you can use them to improve your focus and shave a few seconds off your regular routine tasks.

productivity tips infographic

Posted on: August 25, 2020 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

3 Productivity Tips for the End of the Week [Video]

Categories: organization, productivity

In this video I share 3 tips with you to help you feel more organised for the coming week. These are quick(ish) things to do on a Friday afternoon, or the last day of your working week. I use these tips myself and they help me waste less time overall. I hope they help you too!

Read more here:

Posted on: March 15, 2018 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

"If God had meant for us to be naked, we'd have been born that way."

- Mark Twain